When reading over the nutrition facts panel on the back of your favorite snack, you’ll see listings for familiar things like vitamin C, vitamin E, and iron, but why is zinc always listed? As it turns out, this little unassuming mineral is hugely important to us as human beings, and making sure we get enough helps to keep everything from our overall health to individual cells running like they should.
Here’s everything you need to now about zinc.
What is Zinc?
Zinc is a mineral found naturally in many foods. Most people have heard about zinc thanks to over-the-counter cold remedies promising that a large dosage of zinc will shorten the life of the common cold. The research on this is not exactly conclusive, but what we do know is that getting adequate zinc levels is very important for overall health, and even a small deficiency can cause ongoing problems.
How Does Zinc Help the Body?
An easier question to answer might be “How doesn’t zinc help the body?” Zinc is found all throughout our bodies, but especially in our bones, muscles, blood cells, liver, kidneys, pancreas, and retinas.
One of the most immediate ways in which zinc helps the body is its role as an antioxidant. Antioxidants are necessary to fight free radicals which can cause cancer, meaning adequate zinc can help prevent cancer from forming in the first place.
Zinc is also very necessary for proper reproductive health. Zinc plays a large role in human cell division, including reproductive cells such as sperm and egg cells. Zinc also helps in the regulation of hormones such as testosterone in men, and estrogen and progesterone in women. These hormones are necessary for proper ovulation and menstrual cycles, as well as both male and female fertility.
And remember that insulin is also a hormone, so those dealing with insulin resistance or type II diabetes can greatly benefit from a diet including adequate zinc. In some cases, it has also been shown that a zinc deficiency can lead to an improper sense of taste, causing cravings for either overly sweet or overly salty foods. In these ways, appropriate zinc levels can help maintain healthy weight.
Zinc has also been linked to mental health. Hormones such as dopamine are partially controlled by zinc, and in some cases, mild depression symptoms can be addressed by a change in diet.
How Much Do I Need?
An adult man requires 11 mg of zinc per day. An adult woman requires 8 mg per day, with a few exceptions – pregnant women should get 11 mg per day, and women who are breast-feeding should get 12 mg per day for optimal health.
However, as with many substances, the “more is better” approach does not necessarily work with vitamins and minerals, including zinc. Zinc can become toxic in large doses. Taking in over 40 mg at once can lead to stomach distress, cramping, and nausea. People who are routinely taking too much zinc – such as 150 mg or more over a period of several days or weeks – can begin to experience more far-reaching symptoms of zinc toxicity like a suppressed immune system.
So, definitely get your daily dose, but not too much more than that.
Which Foods are the Best Sources of Zinc?
As with most vitamins and minerals, zinc supplements are available, but doctors and nutritionists recommend that you get your zinc naturally through a healthy diet.
Zinc is found in meat products such as beef and pork. A 3 ounce serving of beef can contain up to 9 mg of zinc, and a serving of pork shoulder has about 4 mg. Alaskan King crab and lobster are also great sources of zinc, with King crab legs serving up over 6 mg per serving, and lobster with 2.5 mg.
Dairy products such as yogurt, some cheeses, or an 8 ounce glass of milk all provide approximately 1 mg of zinc, give or take a bit.
Other sources include almonds, kidney beans, and chickpeas, all of which provide approximately 1 mg per serving.
So, keep checking those nutrition labels and make sure that you are getting an adequate daily dose of zinc.